Organic vs. Linear Career Planning

Indirect Career PathI like linear things. Steps one, two, three. I even read Ikea assembly instructions before I put things together. I’m pretty adept at envisioning an end goal and figuring out what steps need to happen, and in what order.

When I started in this business, conventional career counseling wisdom was pretty linear:

Step One: Assess interests, personality, skills and strengths.

Step Two : Match career options.

Step Three: Explore career options that fit.

Step Four: Determine career goal based on this information.

Step Five: Begin transition.

But here’s the myth of a linear career path: It’s not reality.

Successful career paths are more organic. Especially those that are rewarding, utilize our strengths, and reflect our values and innate interests. We start exploring interests, but we end up test driving a career because an interesting opportunity presented itself. Bravo to us!

That’s exactly how this career planning stuff is supposed to go. Yeah, it can be a little unsettling — others might label it as flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants or flighty. And maybe it is.

But as long as you feel like you’re learning and growing, who’s to say that you’re not on plan? It’s a lot easier to end up in a career you love if you take an organic approach than if you lay out every step and plod through them.

But here’s the myth of a linear career path: It’s not reality.

And just in case you need to hear this, I’m going to say it. It’s totally, absolutely, perfectly normal to end up doing something different than what you set out to do. OK, now if that hasn’t blown your mind, here’s something else. Ready?

Your career doesn’t have to match your degree/major. I know, I know. I’ll give you a minute to digest that. So stop with the apologies when a former college classmate asks you what you’ve been doing since you graduated. The fact that you don’t have a career directly related to your Art History major doesn’t mean that you sold out to The Man or somehow failed in pursuing your passion.

So stay fluid, listen to your intuitive voice and don’t freak out when your career path meanders or gets squiggly.